Tonight, Chiefs fans, for the second week in a row, there will be big-league, professional football* played in Kansas City—in a glittering, filled-to-capacity stadium—and broadcast live on national television.
*Or, of course, as it’s called in this country, “soccer”—which makes a hell of a lot more sense. I mean, have you seen a soccer ball? It’s round! It doesn’t look anything like a foot!
Last Thursday was a monumental day for the other football team founded by our beloved Lamar Hunt. Sporting KC—the team formerly known as the Wizards, who were originally nicknamed, in a fit of either marketing brilliance or complete cluelessness, the Wiz—christened their brand-spankin’-new stadium, Livestrong Sporting Park, named for the foundation of the much admired cyclist, cancer-survivor, and alleged illegal doper Lance Armstrong. With ESPN2’s cameras focused in, SKC battled the Chicago Fire—a team named for one of the largest and most deadly disasters in U.S. history—to a decidedly indecisive scoreless tie, or what my father would call “a close game.”*
*Throughout my childhood, my father—who simply was not as avid a fan as my mother or me—would walk in on us riveted to the last thrilling seconds of a nearly tied football or college basketball game and invariably say the same thing: “Huh. Close game!”
Now, tonight, the U.S. men’s national team is in town to take on Guadeloupe, which as it turns out, is in fact a tiny island nation in the Lesser Antilles with a population one-fifth that of the KC metro area, and not, as I had thought, just some guy named Guadeloupe. This is a crucial match for the U.S., which is hoping to stay alive in its quest for the Gold Cup of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football, or CONCACAF—an acronym that is actually longer than the word “acronym.”
Based solely on what you’ll see here on local front pages, TV news, and billboards, it would be hard to deny that Kansas City is—at least for this week and/or until the NFL owners and players settle their dispute or Clark Hunt announces he is giving all of his employees raises and adopting a gaggle of orphans and/or a litter of really cute, abandoned puppies to show what a good guy he is—a fútbol town.*
*Or, if you prefer, a “soccer city.”
So here’s a quick refresher on just some of the subtle differences between our football, the game of inches, and soccer, the game of feet. Yes, it’s been done before, but so has “Here’s Why The NFL Lockout Still Stinks.” Let me have my fun.
|Playing surface||The gridiron. Because it looks like a grid.||The pitch. Because…hell if I know.|
|Team names||Usually intimidating beasts or characters, or tributes to the team’s city: Bears, Falcons, Chiefs, Steelers.||Primarily gerunds, abbreviations, and inactive adjectives, or occasionally a brand of scotch: Sporting, F.C., United, Chivas.|
|Scoring||Multiple ways to put points on the board on offense, as well as on defense and special teams.||What? Oh, sometimes. Maybe.|
|Running game||An outstanding back may run more than six yards per carry.||An average midfielder may run more than six miles per game.|
|Injuries||Vicious helmet-to-helmet hits resulting in concussions, long-term brain damage, and serious debate about the viability of a game that may threaten the very lives of its most passionate participants.||Phantom ankle clips resulting in horrible acting performances, three minutes of thrashing in exaggerated pain, and nearly unmissable penalty kicks.|
|Annoying fan noise||That guy who somehow has better season tickets than you yelling hoarsely at the back judge to go f**k himself, and then high-fiving his ten-year-old son when the kid repeats it.||Vuvuzelas.
|Crotch grabbing||All’s good if you can get away with it.
|Standard practice when defending direct kicks. Not always effective.|
|Commercial breaks||Every five minutes for another beer spot with a variation on the same theme: Average schmoe chooses tasteless light beer over hot girl, finds eternal happiness.||The Beautiful Game shall not be interrupted for petty commerce. But every inch of jersey is for sale, which can lead to confusion: the Manchester AIGs vs. the Madrid… Siemens?|
So it’s clear that the MLS can only do so much to block the withdrawal pains brought on by the NFL lockout. Still, it is nice to see another dimension of Uncle Lamar’s legacy gaining momentum. In fact, The Wiz Sporting KC qualified as one of eight MLS teams to compete in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament that takes place over the next few months, with the winner to be determined in October. And hopefully there will be plenty of football—not soccer—in Kansas City after that.
Let’s go, K.C.! First, the Lamar Hunt Cup. And then the Lamar Hunt Trophy.